Monday, 13 November 2017

Did a cat get my tongue? No, my thoughts did.

There is freedom of speech, and there is freedom of criticism, and I am learning that these are powerful, but must be wielded responsibly. It isn't easy, but I hope I will get there.

I admit that I got angry when I watched the excellent Channel 4 documentary 'Britain's Forgotten Army', which was part of the Remembrance Weekend to remember the dead of both World Wars, because it was horrifying to learn that the men of the Chinese Labour Corps were not only omitted from official histories and school history books and the like, but that there were also questions of how they were recruited (spoiler: shockingly), how they were treated (spoiler: appallingly), and how China was treated in the aftermath of the First World War. It was horrible to realise just how deeply racism was institutionalised not just in Britain, but in France and the US, and until that documentary, I truly had scales on my eyes where institutionalised racism was concerned.

I have lived with white British people for a very long time. White doctors and nurses helped and continue to help my parents. I went to school and played with white people. I work with white people, and socialise with them. My family lived with white people for generations. White people are even part of my family. So, I will not and cannot accept that all or even most white people, especially in Britain, are racists and/or smug, paternalistic, condescending, colonialist gits and bastards.

But I just could not understand why the Chinese Labour Corps and China were treated so badly, and in the heat of the moment, I tweeted and tweeted. I woke up the next day to replies.

And then I realised that I had to be tactful. I was upset, but so were others; we have all been told lies and omissions. Making each other even more upset was not going to solve anything. So I decided to cool down, think about what I wanted to say and why, and I realised that it would be better if I emailed.

I know that we are living in the age of openness, but with openness there should still be consideration of how someone else is feeling, and that it does no-one any good to upset others. It is not political correctness, or self-censorship, but how I was brought up. Confucius said, 'Don't do to others what you don't want others to do to you', and I think Jesus said something similar: 'Do unto others as you would have them do onto you', and on that basis, I have restrained myself from putting down all my thoughts on my blog.

Anyway, I have responded. Fingers crossed something will come of it. Oh, and if you have the chance, catch 'Britain's Forgotten Army'. It's that good.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Bonfire Night

It's the Fifth of November and a Sunday today, and that can only mean one thing: it's Bonfire Night!

Back in 1605, there was a plot by a group of British Roman Catholics to blow up the Protestant British Government of the day, and one of them, Guy Fawkes, was caught in the bowels of Westminster with barrels of gunpowder and a fuse. He ended up being hung, drawn, and quartered, and since then, depending on one's family background in the UK, the Fifth of November has either been comemmorated with bonfires, fireworks, effigies called 'the Guy', and bangers and mash (which is another name for 'sausages and mashed potato', especially on Bonfire Night), or nothing. 

 'Bonfire Night' is still quite the festival where I am: an annual public display of fireworks culminating with huge bonfires is the norm. Four years ago, I blogged about not seeing the Guy that was something I associated with this time of the year, and it has stayed this way. I now wonder whether Halloween and trick or treating has replaced the 'penny for the Guy' and the Guy's subsequent burning at a bonfire. Who knows?

My Chinese New Years are relatively silent as a licence must be sought for fireworks displays in February or January in the UK, so for me, Bonfire Night has become my annual night of fireworks. I find myself drawn more and more to the bonfire. Watching it bursting into life before fading into embers feels like a cleansing ritual of sorts, in the sense that the fire consumes everything in its path, and does away with shapes and forms. Nothing is permanent, and there is energy, colour, light, and beauty in change, and although I am surrounded by man-made electric lights and surroundings for the rest of the year, this one night reminds me of nature's power and of those things that still have not been explained by science, like why mashed potato tastes odd when it is made with whipped cream instead of butter and milk, and why I am still unable to take a decent photograph of fireworks despite having the best digital cameras at my disposal. Looks like I will just have to find more opportunities to take photos of fireworks!

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Some Random Thoughts on Ebook Covers and Designs

I realise that I have ignored my social media sites for a while since I released 'Five-Penny Rhymes', but the truth is that things at home and at work have been really hectic, so today, I took some time out and updated my Google+, Instagram and with some new pictures, and I am chuffed to bits.

This is what my book covers now look like on my social media sites:

The biggest change I have made is to the cover of  'The Prophecy', my Norse myth/Chinese myth mashup. The original cover looked like this:

It was generated using the Kindle KDP Book Cover Generator, which I thought was a new compulsory thing for Kindle books before realising as I did 'Five-Penny Rhymes' that this was not the case.

I have been working on 'The Vision', my first purely Norse-myth related novel (more on this later), recently, and realised that no matter what, I had to put more thought into the cover of 'The Prophecy', so that I could design for a series and for 'The Prophecy' to be a book that had the option to stand alone and not be part of the series, or to be part of the series. I had always had an idea of what I wanted the cover to look like, and having discovered these things called 'stock photos', I put a few together, adjusted them, drew and added some bits and bobs, and voila, I had a new cover which I feel is more appropriate to the book, and which I am really pleased with because of its look:

This cover also works much better in photo collages, as having the title in the centre of the cover (as opposed to the bottom, like a textbook) means that I can fit it into any part of a picture, and the title will still be visible. Designing the covers myself without using a template or a wizard is so much easier as I can play around with fonts and create my own templates for future books. The only problem is finding the time to do this, but I think I can save on time if I plan what my covers will look like beforehand on paper, and then follow my plans.

It has been so enjoyable to be writing and designing and drawing, and then seeing the results on Amazon. Yes, there were lots of blimps and mistakes along the way, and it was sheer bloody hard work, but it was so much fun to be actually learning all these new skills such as designing and laying out an ebook, and just seeing my three book covers together in a collage is more than enough for me. I want to do more, and this is just the beginning!

Monday, 2 October 2017

Introducing 'Five-Penny Rhymes', my first short collection of poems!

Here's the new cover for my first short collection of poems, 'Five-Penny Rhymes'; hope you like it! You can pre-order 'Five-Penny Rhymes' from Amazon Kindle soon, and it will be released on Amazon Kindle only on 18 October, which is very exciting!

The race-related US protests in Charlottesville and online, and Munroe Bergdorf and the hysterical reaction to her words, affected me more deeply than I imagined, because there was so much hate and anger swirling around what was actually a great, balmy summer where the weather was more pleasant than it had been for a while. I honestly felt that what I was reading did not reflect my reality. Ethnically, I am Chinese, and very visibly so, but culturally, I am a mix of British and Chinese and more; I know who I am, and I have never had any confusion over my identity, or yearned to be anything else apart from me. Reading 'Go Set a Watchman' by Harper Lee further convinced me that as a British-born Chinese woman in Britain, I have a duty to the people of all hues and backgrounds who I grew up with, and who I continue to live with, to use the English language to tell of other ways of life. Britain has had bad press recently, much of which I do not think it deserves, and I am trying to help in my own little way.

I firmly believe that North American and US literature and US-influenced voices like Munroe Bergdorf's must not define non-US countries, especially Britain and British society. Although the US Constitution is based on English law, and the English language is the main and official language of the US, Americans are not Brits (there is too much to go into here), and I do think that everyday normal individuals in the UK treat each other better. The US is unofficially segregated by race and gender, but this is not the case in Britain, and I hope it remains that way.

Although inequalities do exist in British society (and I cover some of these in 'Five-Penny Rhymes'), I see others as individuals, and 'an individual' is how I am seen. Individuals who are male and not Chinese do not see me as a 'race' or 'the sum of femaleness', and I certainly do not see them as 'a race' or 'maleness'. Although institutional racism and sexism do exist, I have been lucky enough not to have been mentally scarred by these, although it might be that my avoidance of racist institutions in general has helped.

Mentioning my background in my writing previously made me uncomfortable because I see issues as 'me' but not as 'a Chinese' or 'a Brit' or 'a British-born Chinese' or even a 'woman', and this has carried through in 'Five-Penny Rhymes', but nevertheless, I think readers need to have some context to 'Five-Penny Rhymes', to know why I wrote it.

Readers, you should read 'Five-Penny Rhymes' and buy it because you like the rhymes or because you think it's GREAT :-), and please don't read it or buy it because you're curious about its author or even worse, being pro-whatever race!!

Here's the description on Amazon:

I tackle bits and bobs about growing up in modern Britain head-on in rhymes, each one a short story. There isn't much about pain, humour, or romance, I'm afraid, but in this, my amazing (if I may say so myself, as I have managed to write twenty rhymes) first collection of poems, this experiment which started out as a challenge to myself has resulted in some seriousness, a few whinges, and lots of rhyming couplets.

Look out for the release on 18th October!

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Now that Ed Skrein has quit ‘Hellboy’, Gemma Chan must leave ‘Mary, Queen of Scots’

I celebrated the news that white British Ed Skrein discovered his pair after all. Having been offered the role of Japanese-American superhuman Ben Daimio, Skrein finally agreed with what his reflection in the mirror and the rest of the sighted world were telling him, and quit before he made himself look like a twerp. 

I have no doubt about his sincerity in wanting to help the struggling Asian members of his fraternity, and I do agree that ‘Ben Daimio’ is not your typical Japanese-sounding name ('daimyo' 大名 'grandly/greatly named' is a feudal title which is normally translated as 'Lord'). Nevertheless, the problem is not with Skrein, but the indsutry he works in. All those so-called brilliant minds he knows clearly do not understand the meaning of ‘racebending’ and ‘colourblind casting’, and if they do, I think they are trying to dismiss the racism that is so visible in their industry.

The ‘Ben Daimio’ of the comics has always acknowledged his Japanese roots, and has been drawn as such, so when the production team behind the new ‘Hellboy’ insisted on Skrein, they were not colourblind casting, but racebending. 
A similar trick is being played with ‘Mary, Queen of Scots’, a new biopic about Mary, Queen of Scots, starring the very Chinese Gemma Chan as the very Caucasian Bess of Hardwick. Now, I have nothing against Gemma Chan at all - I support her and hope she'll have a long career, and that is why I have to write this - but I just think that it'is not fair that Skrein was put under so much pressure when there is relative silence over Chan.

If this new film about Mary, Queen of Scots were not a biopic but a steampunk story about a time-travelling girl from the present day who swallows The New Caledonian Turnkey Stone by mistake, gets sent back in time, discovers a fellow time-traveller calling herself ‘Bess of Hardwick’ (because it makes her sound fierce) who is spying on Mary in order to get close to Elizabeth I, all the while plotting to steal Elizabeth’s crown jewels and use them and the Turnkey Stone to create a widget in order to teleport herself back home, then yes, by all means, cast Gemma Chan as ‘Bess of Hardwick’, because there is no mention of the race(s) of the two time-travellers, and either or both time-travellers could be of any race. This is colourblind casting.

But Chan’s casting, like Skrein’s in ‘Hellboy’, is racebending. ‘Mary’ is a biopic. Apart from the historical Bess’s relatively small eyes (FFS, some Chinese have big eyes, BTW), there is nothing in any record which suggests that she or her ancestors followed Marco Polo to Italy from China and wound up in England. Every record suggests that there was a 99% chance that Bess was a white Englishwoman.

Until the historical record proves otherwise, Gemma Chan taking on the role of Bess of Hardwick is racebending, pure and simple, and the producers of ‘Mary’ should be ashamed of themselves for treating her this way. The promise of fairness and equality is one thing, but this is not the project to offer it. What they have done is nothing but tokenism and racebending, and both will not give white and Asian actors an equal chance to showcase their acting chops on-screen. Colourblind casting will.

We Chinese are proud, and rightly so, of inventing and coming up with so many things, but being historical wannabe kingmakers in England and the founders of English royal families never did come under our radar, and it would be wrong to take credit for that.  And that Elizabethan look does not suit everyone; just look at Margot Robbie. 

Anyway, I am grateful that Ed Skrein finally did something about the racism in his industry. Hopefully the new Hellboy will be the first of many more, and hopefully, Skrein and Chan will appear in projects which will afford them the dignity and respect they and their fellow actors deserve, and which will be intelligent enough for the rest of us as audiences to enjoy.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

My social media roundup! - updated

I can now count the number of social media accounts I have with more than one finger, so I thought I may as well blog about them and share an observation or two. So far, I am on:

1. Google+, Amazon, Goodreads: Beanie Lei
2. Amazon: Beanie Lei
3. Soundcloud, Twitter: BeanieLei
4. Instagram: beanie_lei

I would like to ask you to follow me, but having had a look at Twitter in particular, I wonder. I have come to believe that if used properly, you can use social media tools to make genuinely meaningful connections with strangers, and as a consequence, I now follow and follow back on Twitter with some caution. It's nice to have the large numbers, but sometimes, it does feel that there is no point in having thousands of followers who do not/cannot engage with you, even when you try and say hello.

There are some extremists and catfishers out there, whether religious or race-based or political, and they  post so much hate-filled/boring rants that I do wonder whether they need mental healthcare or an offline hobby.

Having said that, it is great to swear at a public figure online every now and then for expressing something you disagree with. It may be that public figures are like the rest of us, really; they need to let off steam now and then. I wonder if that is what Trump is doing when he tweets. In other words, unlike most of us with an online presence who are online for a purpose, Trump doesn't mean what he tweets, and is tweeting because he is having an attack of verbal diarrhoea.

(Update: Trump has tweeted again since I put this post up. I think that whilst he has the right to hold and express his opinions, his being the US President means that he must make it clear when he is speaking as an individual and when he is representing the US. Whilst I do not agree with his personal statements, I think it is still too soon to pass judgment on whether he is a good president or not. I will say, however, that he is right about America being divided along racial lines way before Obama; I actually had friends who voted for Obama because they were voting for the black candidate as opposed to voting for the best candidate. I am glad to never have had to think that a future leader might be a herald of change simply because he or she is of a different skin colour to me.)

And on the other hand, someone who I suspect is an extreme catfisher is tweeting under the name of a murder victim, which is a shame because they do actually have funny and relevant satirical tweets, but I think they are toeing a very fine line if they are using names and photos without the murder victim's family's permission. It is the family of the murder victim I feel very sorry for, and I really can't understand why this catfisher has to use this murder victim's name and photo when his tweets speak for themselves.

All this has really made me think about the freedom of speech and freedom of criticism and whether there are limits or whether there should be any limits to these, and whether following anyone for the sake of numbers is a good idea. It has also made me think long and hard about social media and how much of it I want in my life. I do think it is here to stay, there's no doubt about that, but using it to replace face-to-face interaction with close friends and family is definitely stupid.

This is it for my Sunday post; have a good week ahead!

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

A Letter to the Director General of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission re The Chinese Labour Corps (CLC)

1. Ms Victoria Wallace, Director General, Commonwealth War Graves Commission
2. Mr Steve Lau, Chairman, Ensuring We Remember
3. Ms Anna Chen (Madam Miaow), Author and Broadcaster

Dear Ms Wallace, cc Mr Lau and Ms Chen

The Chinese Labour Corps

I hope my blog post finds you well. I am writing to share six facts from my GCSEs with you to ask you, in your capacity as the Director General of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and the Commission, to consider remembering, on the Commission’s website, the Chinese Labour Corps (CLC), even if they were a ragtag motley crew who were not soldiers or fighters of any sort, and non-Caucasian foreigners from a non-Commonwealth country.

At school, GCSE History was effective in helping us to delve into the terrible conditions at Ypres, Passchendaele and the Somme, and learning about the sheer madness and awfulness of it all made Wilfred Owen’s words, which we had to learn in GCSE English, clear, even if he was writing from a place and time that we, who were all around his age then, were all fortunate enough never to have been in:

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
-          Owen, Dulce et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori

Then there was GCSE Chemistry, where we learnt about pleasanter things like the Haber Method, which is a method for obtaining synthetic fertilizer named after Fritz Haber.

And thanks to the National Curriculum, I learned these things.

All my GCSE classes omitted that it was Fritz Haber who ultimately developed chlorine gas as a weapon against British soldiers like Wilfred Owen.

It is only now as an adult that I learned that chlorine was discovered in the 1800s, and I can extrapolate one thing: I am sure Haber knew the damage chlorine gas could do, because otherwise, he would not have worked on it. He knew what his priorities were.

I first became aware of the relationship between the Commission’s website and the CLC from a Twitter exchange involving Ms Anna Chen and Mr Steve Lau. I do not know you, Mr Lau or Ms Chen in a personal or professional capacity; all I am is a follower of Ms Chen’s Twitter account.

Nevertheless, the exchange made me go back to my schooldays, and in doing so, I must ask you these questions.

Why, Ms Wallace, are all British schoolchildren obligated to remember Fritz Haber as a saviour? Why, Ms Wallace, are British schoolchildren venerating someone so amoral? Why should we remember his name when he developed poisons, and he knew and fully weaponised them so that they would kill British soldiers? Why is history being kind to him?

Why, Ms Wallace, are British schoolchildren not told about what really went on in the Great War? Why should decent men who were as naïve about war as Wilfred Owen, who were allies and comrades of British soldiers, who dug their trenches and fixed their tanks, who carried things for them, and who gave them proper burials, and who carefully and painstakingly built such beautiful garden-like cemeteries for them (all right, the cemeteries were designed by other people, but the CLC did the grunt work), despite English not being a language they knew, why were such men not mentioned in any GCSE textbook in this country when I was at school?

Lest we forget, even the Animals of the Great War have a permanent memorial built in their honour and memory in Central London.

I am not asking for answers, nor for a memorial to be built to the CLC; it is unfair for me to ask that of you.

But we can make a start in what we teach our future generations. For example, I am sure there are other ways to make fertilizer!

Last but not least, I am writing this letter for Jim Maultsaid and his granddaughter Barbara McClune (@starshell208). I don't know them at all, but I think they deserve a holla for their sterling work.

With kind regards

Yours sincerely
Beanie Lei